Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

"I want my two dollars!" - April 29, 2017

After a rather heavy topic last week, based on sheer stress of the job, I counseled a client the other day that made me laugh. Both the situation and the imagery that came immediately to mind was comical and almost brought me to tears. I’ve been counseling a personal client and her sales team on how to improve receivables. The sales team have been haggling with one client in particular that always has an excuse on why they haven’t paid their invoice or why its late again.

 

First of all, being compensated by a client is never a laughing matter, but sometimes the excuses become reason to pause and chuckle. I’ve heard them all including the “dog ate my invoice” (not kidding). And, in this case, my client began to read off the list of excuses why they were not being paid by their client. Every excuse was made from the “didn’t get the invoice” to “I thought we already paid you” to “sorry about that I will drop the check off this afternoon” (only they never show and dodge your calls for two more weeks). As they read their list out loud to me, I began to recite a few that were on there, and I did not see the list prior to our meeting. Comical to say the least.

 

I then pulled up a clip from an old 1985 (sort of cult) classic, Better Off Dead, starring John Cusack. One famous line from Johnny the paperboy has been stuck in my head for over thirty years, “I want my two-dollars!”. As a career sales person, this is the ultimate collections phrase, that is if you’re old enough to remember or even know this movie. The Myers family has owed Johnny two-dollars for paper delivery for some time, but he cannot get paid. Throughout the movie Johnny shows up in every other scene screaming for his two-dollars. This catch phrase has become synonymous with collections for years, not necessarily in a funny comical way, but in a comedically frustrating way. How often are you yelling out (figure of speech here), “I want my two-dollars”?

 

Repeating the comment above, being owed money by a client is never a laughing matter, but is an issue that businesses, Accounts Receivable departments, and sales people face on a weekly basis. So, what does a sales person do when they are owed money, and the excuses are piling up? My answer is based solely on one fact: your firm is legitimately owed this money without question.

 

Generally, I almost always make the sales person a last resort in attempts to receive compensation, that is before being turned over to collections or legal. In most cases I advise someone other than the sales person, preferably in accounting, to make as many attempts as possible to contact and gently nudge the client toward payment. Documenting each and every step is a key to successfully being paid. But, this should not be a full-time job. After 3, 4 or 5 attempts by a combination of phone calls and emails, then the sales person should get involved.

 

The sales person has a unique relationship with the client, one that should be treated as fragile almost, because when the sales person gets involved in collections, it may never be the same relationship again. The sales person needs to lean on their personal relationship with the client. An explanation of why their lack of payment is a detriment to the relationship if not addressed. I’ve even witnessed sales people go so far as to explain how the lack of payment is causing them personal issues with their employer.

 

Sales is all about relationships. Typically, sales is talked about in terms of closed deals, won business, signed contracts, etc. Sales doesn’t end with a signature or PO#, sales is ongoing, and the sales person can be an effective tool in business-client relations beyond taking an order. Collections too, at times, is a part of the sales process. Sales people should never be afraid to say, “I want my two-dollars”.

The Spirit Of The Law / The Letter Of The Law - April 22, 2017

To say this week was stressful would be an understatement. I knew it was coming. I could see it coming. And, as much as I wanted to believe the meeting would go differently, it went as expected. To say the meeting went poorly would also be an understatement. Pleasantries aside, a longtime client’s newest executive team member is as cold as she is calculated, and I found myself quoting a saying my father taught me many years ago: “we���ve gone from working under the spirit of the law to working under the letter of the law”. Furthermore, my internal crystal ball is telling me to prepare for this longtime relationship to end sooner than later.

 

I’ve long been a believer that there is no single, right way to enter into an agreement with a client, rather every firm/company does things a little differently. My personal approach for practically my whole career has been based on the handshake (yet still written) style of negotiation and agreeing to do business. What I mean is this, my handshake is my bond, and our relationship is more valuable than a signature on a legally binding contract. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not naïve and I do believe contracts are a necessary tool in business, but I prefer to err on the side of “spirit” versus “letter” of the agreement.

 

I believe in the good that is within people I choose to do business with, and I believe both my client and my firm will treat one another with respect and fairness. Leaning on the fact that no one is perfect, or that perfection does not exist, means that people are human and make mistakes. Owning up to one’s mistakes is a sign of honesty and maturity. Sometimes my side makes a mistake and sometimes a client’s side may make a mistake. How these situations are handled is what separates one firm from another, one firm being calculated in every aspect, while the other firm may be more open to changing the rules of engagement along the way for mutual benefit.

 

Going back to the point that various firms have varying ways of working with clients, in the area of professional services, the time & materials approach is likely the most common, and on occasion you’ll come across fixed bid contracts. Time & materials tend to lean on terms like “estimated”, “approximate”, or “ballpark” in the description of fee’s and timeframes for deliverable or engagements. In many case’s there are simply unknows at the time of execution of the agreement that both sides just don’t know how much that engagement may total by the end, at least not down to the penny. Unfortunately, there are those individuals in business that either do not agree with this approach (or like this approach), or they simply cannot grasp the concept. And, these are dangerous business people for long-term healthy relationships. These are the cold and calculated, and are the type of individuals that believe in the vendor-transactional approach to business, not the human-relationship approach. They tend to think of it this way: business is business and personal is personal and never the two shall mix.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dealt with these types of clients in the past, and will likely deal with them again in the future. However, you generally know what you’re dealing with or getting in to in the beginning, and can then plan your business engagement and agreement accordingly. However, when this type of person comes into your existing business relationship, after years of being treated not as a vendor but as a partner, well your relationship is about to be torn apart.

 

Dealing with these types of individuals and so called relationships requires tact in the sense that you must remain level headed at all times. Additionally, you must move away from the spirit of the law or the spirit of the relationship, and work on the letter of the law or the letter of the contractual relationship. This can be tough on a person or a firm that believes in always putting the clients best interests first. Regardless of the situation, you will be held accountable for the details in writing, and not the intentions you’re attempting to display. It will no longer matter if you have a better idea, a better solution to their problem, you must abide by the documentation set forth, or else you may wind up not being compensated or you’ll lose the client.

 

It is a hard lesson to learn and one that I hope you’ll learn through my experience. My client does not see the detriment for which their new executive has already caused in our relationship, but my guess is they will after it is too late, and we are done doing business together. It may not be tomorrow, it may not even be in six months, but I’ll bet in a year’s time this client will come to regret their decision to hire the cold and calculated executive. The Rolling Stones sang: You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. When those in business always demand they get every little detail of an agreement fulfilled, ruling only by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, they will then get what they want and rarely get what they need.

Disconnect To Recharge - April 15, 2017

It's the time of year where vacations increase. Many grade school aged children have a week or so off for spring break and so many parents take time to travel. Gearing up for vacation can be a stressful time for many executive and sales people. The thought of being away from the office, away from email, or away from the telephone for any extended period of time, creates a feeling that something will happen while you’re gone or something will not get done as it should. Now, I’m sure your immediate reaction is, take your smartphone with you. You can go on vacation and remain connected to work, your employees, your clients, etc. But, I challenge you with this question, are you truly enjoying your time with your family and are you recharging your own battery?

 

We live in a connected world. Not only do we connect to social media, news media, email, text, files in the office, telephone call calls, etc. all from our handheld devices, at some point those devices need to have their batteries charged. We plugin or connect, re-juice the battery, and away we go with our connected world. Sometimes we are too connected. I’m as guilty as the next parent in the case of pulling out my smartphone during one of my kid’s sporting events. I’ve checked Facebook or answered a text from an employee while awaiting my turn at the annual parent-teacher meeting. It bothers me, it really does, but I’m connected.

 

I learned a hard lesson about six years ago when I went on vacation with my wife and children and stayed connected. Not every day, but every other day, I connected to my office. I checked email, called my assistant, worked on a contract, and even skipped an event with the kids to talk with a prospect via conference call. That did not sit well…with me. I realized that vacation was stressing me out more than being in the office. I was trying to make sales calls, close deals, while spending time on the beach with my young children. I saw it in their eyes…c’mon dad finish up so we can do things with you. I vowed during that trip to change.

 

From that point on I vowed to limit my connectivity to the digital world around me. I disconnected to recharge. I’m not sure I coined this phrase or overheard it from someone else, but I’ve used it ever since. I’m an early-riser and so on subsequent vacations I would only check email once per day early in the morning before others were awake. I turned off automatic email notifications and forced myself to login. I also turned the phone off during the day. Whether sitting on a beach in Florida or skiing in Utah, what phone call could I receive that would be more important that the time I was spending in those moments with my family. It was easier to do than I initially thought. Like eating potato chips though, you need to have the willpower to NOT check your phone constantly.

 

A few weeks back I was talking with my friend Jonathan. Jonathan has done some traveling with his family, a vacation here and there, but now that his kids are older, they are going on a “real spring break”. Jonathan was a bit nervous to leave for a full week. He was anxious and looking forward to the trip, so he said, but he was very busy with work. It seems he was trying to plan ahead for being gone, but as each day passed the workload increased, not decreased. My advice to Jonathan was this: do what you can before you go, the rest will be waiting when you return, and if you really want to relax and enjoy your family time, disconnect to recharge.

 

Jonathan didn’t wait for his return to work to call me, he called me on his drive home from the airport, and all he said was “thanks”. Apparently, the idea of disconnecting to recharge worked out. The first day or two was a little difficult. The kids were fighting with each other and he had a hard time relaxing at first. Then, before he knew it, all was peaceful. He had a great trip and spent time with his kids playing and exploring. He checked in with his office from time-to-time, but never during the day or evening when it was family time. He disconnected to a point he called “98.9%”. Well, that is a lot more than he thought would happen.

 

In our ultra-connected world, it really is okay to disconnect here and there, especially if it means you’ll recharge your own battery. Plan ahead for your downtime. Turn off the outside noise or influences, realize your own business world will not stop because you’re gone for a few days. And relax (or try your best to relax). Disconnect to recharge.

Lead Without Excuse - April 8, 2017

I’ve almost always left religion out of my writing. On a rare occasion, such as today, I will borrow from my Catholic upbringing and education in an effort to drive a point home. Religions, regardless of specificity, are based on faith. Faith is a belief or belief system. I’m reminded of faith and belief from a line in the book & movie Polar Express: “seeing is believing, but sometimes believing is seeing”. I was raised to believe in certain things even though I could not see them.

 

I have read the bio’s of many business leaders, and although not all, most have a belief system of some sort. Most have faith in a higher level beyond their own capabilities. And, I’ve found that these business leaders live a common mantra of lead without excuse. They rely on their beliefs, their faith, that a decision must be made and stood by, and without excuse. One may make a mistake along the path toward success, but one must own their mistakes, and never make any excuse for a loss or failure.

 

It is through faith, a belief in my abilities as a sales manager, that I can lead by example and without making excuses. I am not perfect, but it is by striving for perfection that I have been successful. The term lead, leader or leadership is not a guarantee of being good at these things. There are bad leaders, poor leadership, which may result in poor performance. Keep in mind, there are great sales people, great sales managers, and sometimes individuals that are great at both sales and management. They are never exclusive. You may possess the skills of one without having the skills of the other. It is rare to find the combination of skills to be both the great sales person and sales manager.

 

Leading without excuses is the first step in becoming a great leader. Believing in yourself, the skills you possess, and having faith in your abilities and the system for which you sell within will lead you to becoming a true leader that others will follow. Never making an excuse for a mistake or a loss is a key fundamental. Removing excuses is the first step.

 

The second step to becoming a great sales manager, a true leader, is doing so by example. It is sharing with those for whom you mentor that you are made of something beyond stats, technical terms, product data, etc. You believe in yourself and the skills you possess. You have faith in your abilities and your sales system. And, you have faith in them. You will accomplish your goals as a sales person so that you can showcase to your team members “how it’s done”. You must manage a loss publicly to them, so they too can have a small taste of defeat, but only to be pushed aside by your faith that the loss was for a good reason. You must move on, without hesitation, and win the next deal.

 

Lead without excuse. Show your team, as a sales manager, that sacrifices must still be made even though you’ve “paid your dues”. Attend the business networking event, be in the office early to make a few cold calls, keep your writing skills sharp. Always be mindful that eyes are watching you. Lead by example, make no excuse, and become a great sales manager. Believe in yourself, believe in your skills, have faith in your system and abilities. Then, and only then, will you be a great sales manager and business leader.

Not An April Fools Joke - April 1, 2017

Here I am, putting my weekly post together on Saturday morning, today is April 1st. It wasn’t hard to come up with the theme for this week, out of sheer frustration, but I wish it weren’t so. This is not an April Fool’s Joke on me, nope it is a reality I’m dealing with and it is not fun. I’ve written multiple posts over the past year or so about managing millennials in sales, becoming the elder in the group, and most recently having my experience ignored for what has been referred to as “old school sales”. Unfortunately, the declining sales performance of a few sales people close to me is not a joke today; it is certainly no laughing matter. My frustration is peeking and changes are on the horizon.

 

As often as I counsel others in the areas of sales and sales management, I am now being counselled as well. I’ve turned to Tim, a close friend and confidant, with an extensive background in successful sales, sales management, training, mentoring, and executive leadership. Tim and I are the same age, and although we grew up in different parts of the country, our careers have emulated one another for the past 20 years or so. I am fortunate to have someone I can turn to for such important advice and guidance, especially because he will be blunt.

 

My frustration with a few individuals today is not new, it has been growing for weeks, if not months. I can swallow my pride, I can own my faults, but I cannot sit back and watch my efforts and those of many others be squandered by sales people who refuse to listen. Listening skills is a requirement for any ‘A’ level sales person. Unfortunately, these few individuals have not yet honed that skill.  

 

Where this frustration stems from is simple, but the fix isn’t. And, in talking with Tim, he recently went through a similar situation. I just hope I can manage in the same way as he did. As if taken from a bad TV sitcom, I feel as though these sales people view me as an old man in a retirement home, where they visit, pat me on the head, and ignore any consideration that I’ve been there done that, and might just have a little wisdom to impart on them. As Tim put it, they don’t have a clue on what I can bring to the table, and it will ultimately be their loss.

 

Why the frustration has come to a breaking point, again no joke on the first day of April, is sad and simple. These specific sales reps performance is dismal. They are not having success on the telephone, in email, during meetings, and their revenue sold is so low that they cannot come to terms that they are at fault. A genuine lack of effort is to blame. And, to make matters worse, they are making excuses. Just when I thought I’ve heard them all, they’re telling me it is the market, the lack of qualified leads in our database, and we don’t have the proper tools for them to be successful. Did I mention they’re all still new in their careers of sales (6 months to 3 years). When I shared these excuses with Tim he told me they were all crazy.

 

Well, I’m not entirely sure they are the ones that are crazy, maybe I’m crazy for allowing this behavior to happen and continue. Let’s start with the market conditions: you cannot use this as an excuse when other sales reps in your own organization are closing deals, and you cannot say this when your competition are announcing new client acquisitions on a consistent basis. We have never, and I mean never, had a lack of qualified leads in our database. Each sales rep is responsible for their own lead generation, and while some are excelling and keeping their pipeline full, these certain reps are not taking the necessary steps to grow their leads. And, tools, what tools do you need other than a telephone. It is not hard to make 30, 60 or 90 phone calls in one day. You do not need a tool to do this other than your voice.

 

Tim reminded me that patience is a virtue. But, his words of wisdom also went beyond this old saying, and his words did not fall on deaf ears. “Patience is a virtue that will never be wasted on a person that cares about their career and the company they represent. The key is determining if the reps that are struggling do, in fact, care about their careers. And, they must also care about your company too, the two are not exclusive. Caring about their career only is selfish. Caring for the company shows a desire to be successful, and to do what is right. If they care about both, your guidance and wisdom will eventually break through to them, but if they only care about themselves, then they will pat you on the head and appease you. They will never follow your advice and guidance, they will not seek your wisdom, when they only care about themselves. For, you see, they don’t care about the company and therefore they don’t care about you, and they are smarter than you. So they think.”

 

As my frustration has grown, I am now forced to take Tim’s words to heart, which may be difficult in weeks to come. The conversations I will be having may not be pleasant. They may be downright disappointing. I will be challenging these reps to determine why they are in sales, why they work for our company, and what they plan to do to be better versions of themselves. I have a feeling I’m not going to like some of the answers, and we may be a few reps short sooner than later, but it should be in the best interest of the organization, never the rep. Boy oh boy, I sure wish this was an April Fools Joke.

Promoted Too Soon - March 25, 2017

A little over one year ago I was providing guidance and mentorship to a younger sales person. He finished grad school just a few years prior and moved his way into a sales position within his uncle’s business. He had done quite well and was meeting or exceeding the goals set forth for him. In fact, the only reason I was asked to provide some direction was more refinement of sales tactics than anything new. I spent two hours per week for about six weeks and when we parted ways I was rather confident he would continue to grow and hit his numbers for the foreseeable future. What I wasn’t expecting was that he would be promoted.

 

Mathew continued to meet and exceed his sales goals. Each month following our sessions he was gaining more and more confidence, and was willing to take on the toughest of sales calls. And, with the tougher sales calls, the larger the deals became, and his closing rate was nothing short of outstanding. So, the management team felt it was time for Mathew to take on more responsibility, and his uncle agreed with them and promoted him to director of sales.

 

Mathew embraced the new role and added responsibility with open arms. He continued to do well with his own sales and began the planning stages for advancing and growing the sales team. He laid out well intentioned strategies for marketing, lead generation, and a sales team, and he obtained buy-in from all around him. A problem, however, soon arose. Mathew had no experience in this role, and he bit off more than he could chew.

 

Growing sales is one thing, but growing a sales organization requires patience and the ability to be a mentor and manager, while at the same time leading by example. Mathew’s best laid plans were not working out. While he hired a few genuinely nice people, they were much like himself, young and ambitious, but with little-to-no experience. Mathew’s eyes were big and bright and full of “spitfire” (as his uncle called it). He easily rallied the management team around his ideas for growth, built a small (new) team he called his own, and he set off on a course for amazing sustainable revenue growth.

 

Mathew is now about a year into his new role and his team is struggling. The numbers are not adding up, so to speak. While effort is being made in the areas of cold calling, marketing through online advertising, blogging, and emailing existing clients, sales are going down. Mathew’s team are now making excuses and I’ve gone back in to help dissect the issues.

 

In talking with his team, to begin with, it appears the excitement and drive is still in place. However, it would appear to me that a new sales tactic is being discussed every other day. Instead of relying on what has worked in the past, the lack of experience is overriding commonsense, and the young team is beginning to grasp for anything that works. Mathew, himself, rose to fame within the organization rather quickly, and had never experienced a slump. Thinking in baseball terms, Mathew did not manage a batters slump or two in the minor league, he went straight to hitting doubles, triples, and home runs in the majors. Now, unfortunately, he cannot manage to get out of the slump he and his team are in, and much of it lies in experience. He’s not “been there done that”.

 

Now, some of the blame does rest on Mathew’s shoulders. He continues to talk a good talk, seems to always be agreeable with upper management, but then lacks the fortitude to step back before stepping forward. And, some of the blame rests on management, especially his uncle. Mathew did not have any go at the sport of sales in the minors. In other words, instead of dealing with at least one sales slump and learning from it, he is finding it difficult to deal with his own slump which is currently compounded by his team being in a slump.

 

Sometimes, with all of the best of intentions, we promote someone too soon. We, us in management roles, talk ourselves into the promoting of a subordinate for a variety of reasons, but none worthy of the disappointment when the promotion does not work out. Maybe you, as the vice president of sales, are worried you’ll lose a good sales person, so you offer them a promotion. Maybe the president of the company just likes the sales rep, believes a promotion will be healthy encouragement, only to find out they don’t really want to be in management after all.

 

It is important when promoting to play a bit of devil’s advocate, so to speak, and consider more about failure than success. Has the person failed in a sales call, lost a deal or two, or truly managed themselves out of a sales slump. What does the future of this employee look like if they cannot manage the promotion successfully? Will they leave, accept a demotion, or will you fire them? In Mathew’s case, he wants to take a step back voluntarily, and learn. He wants to take a few management classes directly dealing with sales and sales people. And, he wants to be patient and accept a promotion again down the road, once the necessary experience is in hand. Fortunately, for Mathew, his uncle owns the company and he’s being afforded this opportunity. Not everyone has the uncle as owner. Management: be aware of the pitfalls of promoting too soon. Sales Person: be aware of the pitfalls of accepting the promotion too soon.

Me: Unapproachable – Guilty As Charged - March 18, 2017

It has only happened one other time in my nearly 23 year career, I’ve been accused of being unapproachable by a few (newer) employees, and all I can say is, “Guilty As Charged”. Now, I must admit, when this accusation was lodged against me, I did almost feel criminal, and I became slightly defensive. Naturally I wasn’t expecting to be called out like I was this week, but nonetheless, it was true. And, I’m not one bit sorry.

 

You see, I’m the guy that has always been approachable, asked for help, and even referred to as the “last resort” or the “closer”. Sometimes I’d rather be brought into a sales situation sooner, but regardless of the timeframe, I have always made myself available to help. I’m the guy that hasn’t taken a vacation in over fifteen years without fielding at least one telephone call from a team member seeking advice or guidance. I would say I’ve been approachable. I’m the guy that has met my sales reps at a coffee shop at 8:45 PM on a Thursday night to help finalize the details of a proposal. I would say I’ve been approachable. I’m the guy that has represented my firm at numerous networking events, shook the hands of many an attendee, when no one else seemed interested in going (or there was some lame excuse). I would say I’ve been approachable. And, I’m the guy who’s tucked his kids into bed, and jumped on the phone in an attempt to calm down an upset sales rep because they lost a deal. I would say I’ve been approachable.

 

In all times and in all cases where I’ve been needed, I was approachable. However, as this recent accusation began to sink in, the more I pondered the past few weeks to few months, I say again, “Guilty As Charged”. But, the more I’ve given thought to being unapproachable over the past few weeks to past few months, I’ve come to the conclusion as to why. And, I didn’t need therapy, counseling or court-mandated rehab, I needed to explore and evaluate what’s been going on with me and with my entire organization. I had the a-ha moment Thursday evening as I sipped a cocktail and chatted with my wife. I am back to carrying the weight of my organization on my shoulders.

 

Urgent Note Here To My Team: don’t take this the wrong way, it is not a true, literal sense of carrying the weight of the company, more of a feeling I’ve been going through.

 

You see, for many years I’ve not only served as the head of sales and operations, I have been the senior-most lead on the sales team. I have carried the weight of the company on my shoulders from time-to-time, driving nearly 70% of the revenue by myself, but that is not the case anymore. No, not now. But, I would say the feeling of need by my team came back into play a couple of months ago, as the company was expanding. Those assigned to oversee the expansion were doing their job, yet I have not been feeling very comfortable in our sales performance. Instead of talking through these issues with my team, I closed myself off to them, buried my head in my own sales efforts, and closed deals, all the while remaining in my executive management role.

 

Most people would think this is a good thing, closing deals, generating revenue, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing, but in doing so I became unapproachable. Even in years past, when buried by my own sales, I’ve always made time for others. I’ve always been approachable. So, what changed this time around, the second time in my entire career?

 

Besides the feeling that my own sales efforts were a necessity for growth and success, I admittedly became belligerent toward my team. I didn’t go so far as to become an asshole to them in the office, at least I hope not, rather I took an “I’ll Show You” approach with my attitude. When asked for advice or my opinion, I went against my own traditional open stance, and became much more matter-of-fact. I became someone I don’t like. I became the directive giving sales manager versus the teacher.

 

Part of my attitude lately has been driven by my team and what I’ve taken as a somewhat lack of respect. I am now surrounded by the youngest team I’ve ever worked with and instead of them seeking my wisdom, they have, at times, brushed aside my advice. You’ve read this term in recent posts, but I’ve been called “old school” more than once lately, and it has not been a compliment. While I’ve been around the block a time or two, I am not foolish to live only in the past. Sales tactics have evolved, expanding with digital inbound marketing efforts, designed to compliment traditional selling. Yet, some younger sales folks just don’t have the willingness to listen and/or appreciate the wisdom of an older sales person like myself. And, when you don’t listen, don’t take advice, fall short of your sales goals, all the while ignoring me, well then I become unapproachable. At least this is my guess at this point.

 

So, to my own sales team, I apologize for being unapproachable lately. For those that know me, this is out of character, but I acknowledge it to be true. Know this, I am not always right, nor do I want to be viewed as a know-it-all. I am simply in my role to be a teacher, a leader, a mentor, a big brother, and I will continue to do so by example. Use my experiences to further your own career. Learn from my mistakes, so you too can avoid some of the pitfalls from sales. Take advantage of my availability, bend my ear, and allow me to accompany you on sales calls. And, if you choose not to take me up on this offer, so be it. I will immediately get back to being approachable for those that want my help, appreciate the wisdom I can share, and I will outsell/outperform those that want to go it alone.

 

And on a final note, while this is a very personal story, many sales managers and executives can relate. Take my story to heart, try to always be approachable, and lead by example.

In Sales There 's No Such Thing As Secret Sauce - March 11, 2017

One small indulgence I give myself is watching the food shows. Some of my favorites travel from city to city and state to state visiting diners and little holes-in-wall. I’ve always preferred a local greasy spoon to a high-end steak joint. So naturally I gravitate to these shows. Every so often I get drawn in to the explanation by the chef as they describe the recipe and how to’s in putting a dish together. I’m never afraid to try something in the kitchen, and by watching these shows, I will give these new dishes a shot.

 

Every so often though, just when I’m getting excited about a new food item, the chef blurts out – it’s a secret sauce (or secret ingredient), and my frustration kicks in. How dare you get my taste buds so excited and then shut me down. Then I laugh and move on to something else on my honey-do list.

 

I thought about these food shows the other day when being solicited by a “sales coach” who wanted to pitch me on using his services. He wants me to hire him to bring a “secret sauce recipe” to my sales team. Once again I laughed and moved on to something else on my (business) honey-do list.

 

When it comes to sales, there is no secret sauce, and you will be hard pressed to prove otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is a time and place to seek sales training, but even with the biggest sales training programs out there, think Sandler Sales Institute as an example, the training is based around management of real world processes in business. Sandler doesn’t necessarily have a secret sauce, instead they have a teaching style, and those who learn from Sandler learn methods that can be applied in a variety of sales settings.

 

Although I am Sandler trained, I’m not a spokesman, rather an observer of the sales world around me. Over the course of my 23 year career I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of third-party training programs and I’ve also taught many on my own.

 

Selling, at its core, is about building a relationship with someone. Nothing more, nothing less. Is there a secret sauce to dating? Is there a secret sauce to starting a new school? Is there a secret sauce to interviewing for a new job? Some may say yes, but I say no. Implying that you need a secret sauce to be successful in relationships, at least to me, is a sad testament to our culture. Instead, I would prefer to guide sales people toward training that is grounded in openness.

 

A short post this week, but one I felt the need to write. Not only have I been contacted lately by the snake oil salesman pitching his secret sauce to sales training success, many of my colleagues have as well. Successful sales people can be trained. Successful sales people can learn new techniques. But, truly successful sales people, the ‘A’ level sales people, know there is no secret sauce. Their success comes from building relationships with their prospects and clients, managing those relationships with care, and sticking to traditional fundamentals of selling. Remember the old saying, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Don't Touch A Hot Stove - March 4, 2017

How many times have you either been told this statement directly, overheard the statement being made, or even made the statement yourself: “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”? And, how many times have you, or someone else, touched the hot stove? After the ouch factor, you then look at the person that warned you with a stare of wonderment, in a “why didn’t you warn me” manner, only to get the “I TOLD YOU SO”.

 

It’s happened to all of us at some point in our lives. This type of scenario even happened to me recently. I was traveling with my family and my kids told me the pool water was cold, but I jumped in any way, and it was freezing. My reaction, of course, was to ask, “why didn’t you tell me it was this cold?” My kids just rolled their eyes, laughed at me, and walked away.

 

These little “I told you so” moments happen in sales too. Rather than “I told you so”, I have always tried to make these learning moments, both as the student and the teacher. As my career has evolved over the years, I do find myself serving more and more as the teacher, and yet I still learn from these moments through my students eyes.

 

First of all, no one ever wants to hear “I told you so”, but mature, level-headed sales people will recognize and understand that constructive criticism can go a long way in building one’s sales career, because these teaching-learning moments almost always are based upon experience. It doesn’t take a master’s degree in education to be the teacher in these scenarios, rather it takes a story teller’s approach.

 

Sales people, so I’ve come to learn over 20+ years, tend to be more receptive when being told a story versus being given a directive. When a young sales person comes to you for advice, or you are placed in a situation where you may be tempted to offer advice (as in be careful the stove is hot), sales people have an increased likelihood of listening to you (avoiding the stove) if the advice is told in story format (such as: let me tell you, that happened to me once, and here’s how it turned in my favor). Giving a directive, the “do this” and “don’t do that” approach generally doesn’t come with any “why reasoning”, and instead comes off just as it sounds “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”.

 

Think of the parent-child relationship for a moment. It’s happened since the dawn of the hot stove. Parent says to child, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”, child proceeds to touch stove, and child then gets a burn on his or her hand. Instead, the scenario could have played out like this: parent says to child, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot, and trust me it will burn you. In fact kid, I did not listen when I was warned once, and boy oh boy did that burn hurt. It doesn’t look hot, but it left my skin so severely burned that it took two months to recover. I just wouldn’t want to see you go through what I went through.”

 

In sales we could take the directive approach: sales person tells sales manager they are being met with resistance to their closing approach on a sizable deal. Sales manager says, “go tell them XYZ and come back with a PO”. Unfortunately, that is a directive, whereas the sales manager may have taken this approach: “here’s how I would handle their objection, but realize it is all in your delivery, so you may want to try this tone of voice, use these words, and give them a few examples such as these, and also be prepared for a follow-up objection, which I’ve encountered too and here’s how I dealt with it…”. Do you see the difference?

 

Most sales people have an ego and asking for advice and guidance is not always their first choice. More times than not the sales manager or other seniors in the company tend to overhear the sales person talking and they chime in. They mean no harm, they simply want to be helpful. When you’re in the advice offering seat, be mindful of your message delivery, offer advice and guidance, and wish them well. If they ignore you, call you old school, and end up losing the deal, well then you can say, “I told you so”.

Blending Tactics - February 25, 2017

I sound like a broken record at times. I continue to preach about sales tactics from my point of view, which in most cases, is based upon a successful track record. Recently though, I’ve been accused of being “old school” when describing what works and what doesn’t work, because I don’t often cover topics related to social media, texting, etc. Being told that “that’s your opinion” or “your point of view on sales is outdated” generally doesn’t sit well with me. One person even went so far as to say I was “out of touch with the reality of today’s digital marketplace”. Of course, this same person has less than 20% of the sales opportunities I currently have with clients and prospective clients. And, it has now become a bit of a hot topic in my office.

 

There is no right or wrong way to deal with sales communication. Sales, however, cannot be built upon a single approach to communication, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any ‘A’ level sales person that says so. It requires a blending of tactics. In the recent conversation’s I’ve been a part of, I have been accused of being singularly focused on the cold call, in that I believe it is the only way to open doors. This could not be further from the truth. But, the lessons learned by a sales person in the cold calling process are invaluable and will last them their entire career. Yet, so many younger or newer sales people roll their eyes at the idea of cold calling, and then try to circumvent this tactic and find short cuts.

 

I consider myself the king of the phrase “touch points” in my office. Touch points with target clients requires more than just picking up the telephone. It requires email, traditional letters, telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, and yes even a text message here and there. I’ve even used Facetime and Skype over the years to blend digital communication with face-to-face meetings.

 

I’m not an old curmudgeon that believes we need to go back to door-to-door sales or faxing order sheets to customers. I’ve been there, done that, but do believe again there are lessons learned that make me an ‘A’ level sales person today. From my so called “days of old” I learned patience. Quick sales lead to quick losses. I have watched many a sales person become victim to this scenario more times than I would like. Yet, some continue to seek the quick hit answers to what may be a longer sales process.

 

As I ponder over this post, some frustration overcomes me. I am reminded of an uncle I was quite fond of growing up. Rick was a very smart guy. He was the guy that would be reading two, three, sometimes four books at a time, ranging from philosophy to crime drama to business how to’s. He could rebuild an engine on a ’69 Mustang as easily as he could whip up a five-course gourmet dinner. He was a great guy too. Fun to be around would be putting the description mildly. He was the ultimate sales guy.

 

Unfortunately, Rick was always looking for an easy sale or a quick buck. Throughout my childhood and into my early career, Rick started and closed eleven different businesses. Nothing had staying power because Rick never followed traditional sales tactics. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand traditional selling, rather he knew the tactics quite well, instead he chose to skip this step or that step. He refused to make cold calls and deemed them too much of a time investment. It would take too long to fill his pipeline. He constantly tried different approaches to gaining clients, but ultimately failed in his efforts. Rick is retired now and doing okay. He lives a modest life in Baltimore near family and friends. On the surface, he seems content. Under the surface, he has regrets. I know because he’s told me. He wishes he would have been much more patient, stayed the course, learned from those that had successfully gone before him, and “desperately wishes he would not have cut corners or tried to always find short cuts to success”. He never learned and mastered the basic tactics of selling which never led to the blending of tactics to increase his overall sales.

 

In the world of sales, regardless of what product or service you are selling, there’s really no such thing as old school versus new school. There are basic principles of sales, proper pathways to success, blending of all tactics throughout the sales process, and patience. The greatest of all sales tactics is patience.